03.09.21 3 min

5 strategies to turn new donors into passionate, lifelong supporters

A data-savvy approach to connecting with new supporters can help you build meaningful relationships and keep donors engaged with your cause.

Niely Shams

Niely Shams

President, Data Axle Nonprofit

When the pandemic started, many thought nonprofits would be hard hit and that donations would dry up as COVID-19 took its toll on the economy. Yet, in Data Axle’s survey of over 1,200 charitable donors, a majority (51%) said the amount they donate has not changed during the pandemic, and 28% said they are contributing more. In addition, according to the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Foundation for Philanthropy’s Q3 2020 Fundraising Effectiveness report, the number of new donors was up by 11.7% year-over-year.1

Source: AFP Foundation for Philanthropy. Recapture Rate = Lapsed donors who renewed their giving in the quarter

2020 created unique financial circumstances for many –some were able to save money staying home, while others struggled with unemployment or reduced income. As nonprofits worked to help those in need and keep their organizations’ initiatives going, many organizations saw a surprising surge of charitable giving and new donors. This was true not only for nonprofits that focus on health and relief efforts but for ones that support the environment and political campaigns (which also experienced an election year boost) as well.

Holding onto new donors in 2021 and beyond

Now nonprofits across a variety of fields are planning for what comes next as the vaccines are distributed, and a sense of normalcy is restored. Organizations are wondering: “How do we elevate our relationship with our new donors? Will they continue to support our cause post-pandemic?”

While new donors have increased, the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy Q3 2020 report indicated that nonprofits are struggling to retain them – with new donor retention rate down 7.9% year over year.

To keep newcomers engaged with their cause, nonprofits can try these 5 data-driven strategies to build deeper relationships with new donors and turn them into long-term supporters:

1. Build out a complete profile of your new donors

While the data you have on new donors may be limited at first, you can gather a wealth of information on contributors beyond the basics you have in your database. Nonprofits can build a complete profile of new donors with demographic and psychographic (interests, attitudes, lifestyles) attributes, which is essential to creating personalized campaigns that cultivate meaningful, long-term relationships.

To overcome a lack of historical transactional data from new supporters, nonprofits can partner with a provider like Data Axle to access this valuable information. Nonprofits use our cooperative donor databases, Apogee and DonorBase, to access data on millions of donors spanning billions of individual donations and overlaid with rich consumer attributes such as age, marital status, household income, presence of children, hobbies, interests, and many more.

2. Use smart segmentation tactics and personas to create personalized touchpoints

Personalization can have a powerful impact on charitable giving. A recent Accenture survey revealed that 55% of nonprofit donors would give or volunteer more in exchange for a more personalized experience. In fact, 59% of respondents said they would donate up to 10% more for a more customized experience, 25% would give up to 25% more, and 8% said they would contribute up to 50% more.

Two key strategies that pave the way to effective personalization are audience segmentation and personas. Nonprofits can segment their audiences based on a number of factors. For example, donors can be grouped by:

  • Giving level
  • Acquisition channel
  • Demographics (age, etc.)
  • Type of donation/giving (recurring, annual, volunteers, etc.)

Personas (a fictional representation of what new, high-value, long-term donors look like) can help you craft campaigns and messaging that put the donors’ goals and interests first.

Source: NC State University Philanthropy Journal

3. Predict the lifetime value of new COVID donors and prioritize outreach

Lifetime value (LTV) calculates donation levels from donors over the lifetime of their relationship with your organization. While you may not have in-depth donation history to perform this analysis, you can build out your data using some outside help (like the Apogee donor database mentioned above) or through an analysis of current donors.

While getting an accurate number down to a single donor is unrealistic, you can predict across your new donor group by compiling the data you have on your existing givers (both old and new) and performing an analysis that considers your:

a. Average donor lifespan across the charity or specific segments

b. Average donation amount (specific to new donors and existing donors)

  • Tracked across time to see year-over-year trends
  • Comparing 2020 trends to other years

c. Average Frequency of donation

Nonprofits can also use advanced modeling and artificial intelligence to identify which new contributors are most likely to become long-term donors and prioritize outreach to this segment.

4. Develop nurture campaigns to stay top of mind

Online donations continue to increase, and digital communications are becoming essential for nonprofits. In fact, in Data Axle’s donor survey, email was the #1 preferred communications channel (48%), and according to an M+R Benchmark report, nonprofit email marketing earned 45 dollars for every 1,000 fundraising messages sent.2 Savvy nonprofits are creating automated nurturing programs to stay in touch with their donors. Of course, you can also extend this program to direct mail for those givers that have not engaged with your organization online.

Welcome messages
Welcome messages provide a crucial touchpoint with new donors and help you share additional information about your initiatives to drive donors towards repeat giving. Welcome emails tend to have very high open rates, often 50% and above, making this a vital tool for making connections. Nonprofits can encourage engagement with a “light” ask (follow us on social media, sign a pledge, volunteer your time, etc.).

Forty-seven percent of Giving Tuesday donors surveyed said regular email interaction about their donation’s impact inspired them to give.3 Keeping your new donors up-to-date on your cause with email or direct mail newsletters helps you stay top of mind.

Follow-up ask
Research from the Fundraising Effectiveness Project found that only 19% of first-time donors give a second gift. But when a supporter donates for a second time, 63% will give again in the future, indicating how crucial it is to earn a second contribution from a new donor.4 Another report indicated that most donors make a second donation around the one-year anniversary of their first (often in response to a plea from the charity), but 19% of donors will make a second gift within 90 days of their first. An analysis of past giving among your own supporters can help you determine the best time and channel to reach out for that second contribution.

5. Craft tailored messaging to show you care

Donors feel more connected to your cause when you craft campaigns that are specific to your individual supporter. According to a survey by The Nonprofit Times, 71% of donors said they feel more engaged when they receive personalized content from the charities they support.

Share tangible information about a donor’s individual impact

Personalize your ‘thank you’ messages

Create a donor-centered interactive quiz

Your cause may be serious, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun with your supporters. An interactive quiz or fun survey can help you build rapport with supporters.


A recent survey from Salesforce analyzed the success of nonprofits that were data-savvy and had a high digital maturity (likely to make decisions based on data, share data across the organization, personalize based on data, etc.) versus those that did not. The report revealed 81% of nonprofits with high digital maturity said they met or exceeded their goals in marketing, compared to 62% of low digital maturity nonprofits. In addition, high digital maturity was related strongly to exceeding fundraising goals (27% for leading organizations, versus 18% overall).5 A data-savvy approach to connecting with new supporters can help you build meaningful and lasting relationships with them.

Want to learn more about how to turn your new donors into passionate, lifelong supporters? We’d love to chat!

Niely Shams

Thanks for reading!

Written by Niely Shams, President, Data Axle Nonprofit

Niely oversees the overarching strategy of Data Axle Nonprofit, spanning account support, product offerings, donor acquisition solutions, and program execution.


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